Beneath me stood 200 meters of precipitous mountain wall. My hands burnt as they, for dear life, held on to metal-wires and bits and pieces of the rock. My toes rested aggressively on a few centimetres of something in between a slippery edge and a sloping ledge. My body soft against the hard rock. As I looked down, both out of inevitability and curiosity, my first thought was: “Thank God I’m not afraid of heights!”, my second: “I’m really not afraid of heights”. Often claiming this to be the case, I guess I previously never really managed to convince myself entirely. Good to know for future audacious impulses!
A few years ago I read Seneca’s “On the Shortness of Life”. It is an excellent philosophical essay, that beautifully encourages the reader to stop wasting time bickering with nature over life’s limited timespan and instead make the most of it. Aiming to rectify too much time already wasted, I arranged to embrace nature, this time by climbing the Via Ferrata Monte Albano. As I hung there on the mountain, I, hedonistically, felt that Seneca would have approved.
On the adventure I met one of these marvellous women (Amelia Earhart) that inspire me beyond measure. She reminded me in words her own that: “Nature is infinitely giving, if you respect her, and brutally just, if you don’t.” In nothing short of a Hollywood script she continued to tell me her gripping life story:
Having been in love many times, she met the love of her life at 37. “Never settle, Maria!” she advised me seriously. “It was perfection well worth the wait”, she continued, smiling at the still living memory. Years of adventurous travel, of getting lost and found together, and of two years battling the cancer that too early claimed his life, followed. Her voice betrayed no anger, no grief. Joyous, she was grateful for the life together, not bitter about its shortness. Humbled I listened and learned.
Now two and a half years later, men ask her out. Without rejection to the idea, she told me with a silly, repulsed face: “They’re no good! Now I am not particularly beautiful, but my husband – he was such a handsome man.” I smiled, her attitude raised my spirits higher than the mountain had my body.
Before we went our separate ways for the day, she tucked up an old, weather beaten photo from her wallet. Always within arms reach, her ‘tall-dark-and-handsome’ husband smiled back at any viewer. Her love as alive as when he was. Confirming everything I hoped, but never believed, about love.
As I soaring, satisfied and sweaty returned home, I undressed for a shower and noticed the discoloration of my bruised legs and arms: Nature’s straightforward way to remind me that everything has a price. My bruises and wounds will heal, some merging into scars, others into experience and memories. Perhaps the key to a life well spent, is to fill it with moments whose price cannot be paid from a wallet, but some when the heart already is full, might end up there anyway. Moments engraved in our person; body, mind and soul.